The best way to see all this historic University City has to offer is on an Oxford boat trip. Whether it’s you putting in the hard work or leaving it up to the professionals, here’s everything you need to know about Oxford punting.
You simply can’t come to Oxford without trying your hand at punting
What is punting?
A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square bow that’s normally used in small rivers or shallow water. The punt doesn’t have a motor, but is propelled by a standing punter who moves the boat by pushing against the riverbed with a long pole. Originally punts were used as cargo boats or for fishing, however today punts are mostly used for pleasure rides and were first popularised on the River Thames in 1860. They’re primarily used in Oxford and Cambridge for tourist rides or racing competitions.
The most popular place to try punting in Oxford is the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse. Here, you can either choose a self-drive option where you’re behind the pole, or else take the easier option of having a chauffeur to manoeuvre you around the waterways. The boathouse is located underneath the Magdalen College Tower and from there, you can float your way down the River Cherwell to pass the Botanic Gardens, Christ Church College Meadows (where Lewis Carroll taught in the 19th century), St Hilda’s College gardens, Magdalen School rose gardens, and continue towards the Christ Church Meadow and the Isis, Oxford’s stretch of the River Thames. The Boathouse can even organise picnic hampers so you can enjoy a romantic afternoon on the water. Cherwell Boathouse is another good option for boat hire in Oxford. Aside from their 80 punts available for hire, the Boathouse also has an award-winning restaurant and an elegant riverfront bar. The restaurant is renowned for its innovative menu and top quality wine list. On warm days you can sit out on the terrace and watch the punts, or indulge in a decadent afternoon tea in the adjoining Teahut Bar.
How to punt
Punting is actually a lot harder than it looks – and Oxford has its own particular style. Punters generally punt from inside the boat rather than from the top of the till and propel the punt with the till end facing forwards. However, it’s up to you to find what style works best for you without toppling overboard! First timers should stand at the back, half-facing the side. Hold the pole vertically against the side of the boat and let the pole drop through your hands until it touches the riverbed. Push the pole downwards and backwards; gently at first, then more forcefully. Bend your knees as you push down to get some extra speed. Let the pole trail behind the punt to act as a rudder. Once you’re off, steer the punt by stroking a little on alternating sides.
If you’re not quite ready to give punting a go, there are plenty of other aquatic activities. Oxford River Cruises offers sightseeing tours, dining river trips and private boat hire for special events. The sightseeing tours last from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours and will show you Oxford highlights such as the University Regatta course, the College boathouses, Folly Island and Christ Church College. The dining cruises are catered for by the restaurant The Folly and include finger sandwiches, homemade quiches, scones and drinks, as well as the full 2.5 hour sightseeing trip.
Full steam ahead
Salter’s Steamers is an old family boating company on the River Thames that was founded in Oxford in 1858. Today, Salter’s Steamers runs public trips from towns all along the Upper Thames between Oxford and Staines, near London. Destinations include Oxford, Abingdon, Reading, Henley, Marlow and Windsor. They also have dining options with full banquet and buffet menus, jazz cruises with three hours of entertainment from the Boulevard Swing Jazz band, and chauffeured punting trips.